How does your gut health affect your health and overall wellbeing? Probably more than you realize! In fact, the relationship between your gut and your immune system, brain, mood, and metabolism are so closely linked that some experts have referred to it as an invisible organ—meaning that its importance might be even greater than we think!
To summarise, gut health refers to the balance between good and bad bacteria that reside in your digestive tract. If there is more bad bacteria than good, you can become more susceptible to many diseases and illnesses.
Here are 10 ways your gut health affects your health.
1) Weight loss
The relationship between gut health and weight loss is complicated. The truth is that studies referring to gut microbiome (bacteria residing in the digestive tract) and their effects on your overall health are still fairly new and need further investigation.
However, what we know so far is really interesting. A 2020 study explored the influence of the gut on obesity in adults, and it found that poor gut health affects your body’s ability to absorb nutrients and use them for energy. This, in turn, affects your metabolism which is a significant factor in your ability to lose weight.
Metabolism is a holistic name given to all the biological and physiological processes that occur in the body. All these processes require a number of calories every day. When your metabolism becomes slower, not only do these processes are not carried out properly, but you also lose fewer calories at rest. This means that creating a caloric deficit is harder, and thus making weight loss harder.
On the other hand, if your gut is healthy, the microbes allow your body to produce hormones that reduce cravings that normally lead to binge eating and weight gain.
To achieve better gut health and possibly accelerate weight loss, avoid processed foods—especially sugar—and take a high-quality probiotic daily. If you don’t know much about eating healthy, check out this post on Eatwell guide for further support.
2) Skin problems
A healthy gut microbiome makes it more difficult for skin problems like eczema and acne to develop. We see evidence of a connection between an individual’s gut health and his or her skin condition through what scientists call gut microbiome markers. For example, there are specific gut bacteria that have been linked to conditions like acne and eczema, but also higher rates of allergies and asthma in children.
For example, a 2018 study investigated the effects of gut microbiome on skin and the findings were very eye opening. It was found that the gut microbiome affects regulates skin homeostasis and allostasis. What this means is that the bacteria found in gut affect your skin by affecting the way it protects itself against harmful bacteria, hydration, synthesis of vitamins and hormones, and absorption of materials. In addition, it affects the processes that take care of the skin homeostasis. This means that poor gut health can make your skin more prone to many skin problems including psoriasis and acne.
3) Mood and mental health
The gut microbiome has been shown to affect more than just physical health; our mental health can also be greatly influenced by what’s living in our guts.
Your brain and gut are connected by a visceral nerve called the vagus nerve. It is a one-way information highway where the information only flows from your gut to the brain and not vice-versa. On top of that, 90% of serotonin (a hormone and neurotransmitter responsible for our happiness) is produced within the gut. With this information in mind, poor gut health affects our mood, cognitive thinking, decision making, and can lead to chronic mental health problems like depression and anxiety.
This is well documented in a 2017 study where researchers investigated the gut-brain axis which refers to the way that the gut affects and influences our brain.
4) Immune system
Did you know that 70% of our immune system is produced in the gut? This makes a lot of sense since the food we eat and drink are loaded with pathogens, viruses and bacteria and the ideal location of our immune system is the gut because it can fight off these invaders more effectively.
How many times have you eaten something that is unhealthy or rich in saturated fats to later find yourself struggling with an upset stomach? This will be the effects of your immune system as well as your gut microbiota.
The ideal ratio between the good and bad bacteria is 85:15. A reduction in good bacteria percentage can suppress your immune system which then ultimately leads to a host of issues and medical problems.
A healthy gut can improve fertility in both men and women. Studies show that an impaired intestinal barrier can lead to reduced sperm count and motility, along with a rise in estrogen production, which affects ovulation. Furthermore, because probiotics boost immunity, they help protect against inflammation of reproductive organs, such as fallopian tubes or ovaries.
A 2021 study which explored the effects of microbiota on the reproductive system found that poor gut health can cause pregnancy complications. Although the process is still under investigation, it seems that the gut microbiota interacts with oestrogen, androgens, insulin, and other hormones. All hormones are connected to the reproductive system.
6) Blood sugar levels and insulin resistance
When gut bacteria are out of balance, it can throw blood sugar levels out of whack and cause insulin resistance, which contributes to obesity and chronic diseases.
Insulin resistance occurs when the body’s tissues and organs stop responding to insulin. Insulin is a hormone that’s responsible for pushing sugars from the blood into tissues in an attempt to lower blood sugar levels. When these tissues become resistant, it means that blood sugar levels remain high. As a result, the body signals to store sugars in a form of fat instead of using them for energy. In turn, this can lead to obesity and type 2 diabetes.
If you have been consuming a lot of sugar for a while and you suspect insulin resistance, speak to your doctor. There may be dietary and lifestyle changes that he or she may recommend. From a nutritionist point of view, the only way of improving insulin sensitivity is by reducing your intake of sugars through diets like fasting and keto. This only needs to be done temporarily to help your body become more sensitive to insulin.
However, it is always recommended to speak to a doctor or a physician.
The liver is closely connected with the digestive tract as it receives 70% of its blood from the intestinal venous outflow. This represents the first line of defence for the liver since many pathogens can travel through that blood if they are not destroyed by the immune system.
As you may have learned previously, poor gut health affects the immune system. If the immune system is poor then many harmful bacteria can travel around the body causing certain damage to tissues and organs. This can lead to inflammation and a multitude of symptoms and diseases. On the other hand, good gut health can suppress inflammation in both the gut and the liver.
8) Heart health
There is a direct link between gut health and cardiovascular disease. The gut bacteria can form trimethylamine (TMA) which act as a pro-atherogenic compounds. These compounds have been associated with heart failure. As these continue being produced by the bad bacteria, they can further affect the function of the heart making it more susceptible to other health problems. Myocardial dysfunction can cause further damage by amplifying inflammation too which can lead to heart failure.
On the contrary, certain good bacteria have actually been used in medicine to treat hypertension, cardiovascular diseases, and viral hepatitis. So, as you can see, your heart health depends on your gut quite a lot, and yet it’s so unheard of.
To support your heart health, make sure to consume plenty probiotics and prebiotics as well as reduce your intake of saturated and trans fats.
9) Kidney health
Your kidney health could be at risk if there is an imbalance of gut microbiota. Some research suggests that intestinal bacteria produce uraemic toxins which lead to the uraemic syndrome. Patiens who suffer from kidney diseases have been proven to have elevated levels of these toxins. Since these toxins are supposed to be identified and destroyed by the immune system, this response is normally suppressed due to bad bacteria. This can lead to things like kidney stones.
Lifestyle plays a major impact on a persons gut microbiome. Lifestyle includes things like sleep, dieting, exercise, social life, alcohol consumption, stress, and more.
A 2016 study by Swedish and German scientists investigated the impact of insufficient sleep in the composition of human microbiome. Although the study was fairly small with only 9 participants who had no history of any sleep deprivation and only two nights of partial sleep deprivation, the study found that:
- A significant decrease in certain types of beneficial bacteria
- Changes to the composition of micro-organisms in the microbiome that are linked specifically to obesity and type 2 diabetes
- A significant decrease in insulin sensitivity
This means that sleep itself has significant effects on the gut microbiome. Make sure to dedicate approximately 8-9 hours of sleep every night. Any less or more can be just as detrimental as a sleepless night.
In this article, we discussed 10 ways that your gut can affect your health. As you can see, there are so many problems associated with the imbalance of good and bad bacteria. This is why, having good gut health should be a priority. If you suspect to have poor gut health, be sure to check out the Nutrition2change Gut Health 101 guide: Heal your gut in just 30 days.